A poem which involves a journey which is both literal and metaphorical is ‘The Almond Tree’ By Jon Stallworthy. We are made aware of this journey’s deeper significance through the poets use word choice, imagery, mood, structure and rhythm. This poem describes a significant event in the poet’s life. He describes his thoughts and feeling as he proceeds through his journey of emotions as he tries to handle the fact his child has been born with a disability.
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It is significant that the poet allows the reader to join the speaker on his journey of changing emotions; therefore, his excitement as he journeys to the hospital makes our feelings of sympathy greater when we see his life tumble with misery when he finds out the news of his sons disability. Stallworthy follows his journey from his car journey to the moment he reaches the hospital room where his child is being born. His excitement as he proceeds to the hospital increases as he gets closer and closer to his awaited child. The use of the simile ‘The lights were green as peppermints’ highlights his joy as the word ‘peppermints’ suggests happiness and sweetness of life. Also, it tells us that the traffic lights were green all the way to the hospital, this highlights his luckiness and describe his literal journey on the roads to the place of his child’s birth, but could also refer more metaphorically to the idea that his life is on the move as he approaches his journey towards fatherhood and the adventures which having a child brings. Stallworthy highlights a great change in the man’s life here as he journeys literally and metaphorically to his son’s birth.
Stallworthy also uses many metaphors when describing his journey to his new son. The metaphor ‘the lucky prince’ suggests to the reader fairy tales and luck which shows that he is looking forward to something special. Fairy tales are usually associated with childhood and normally have a happy ending; just as the poet expects his journey to the hospital to have a happy ending. This again, emphasises the joy he felt as he endures his journey to meet his brand new son. Stallworthy makes use of the seasons in his poem to show how he is feeling as the poem goes on. ‘banishing winter with a nod’ This is effective as winter is thought of as a cold, depressing and gloomy time of year where nothing is produced. Although, he here writes that he can ‘banish’ this gloomy time with just a nod. This tells us that during his journey he is in a happy mood and feels powerful and confident in his own body.
After his optimistic and joyous journey to the hospital in the car, we are given signs that something may be wrong. Stallworthy uses word choice to tell us a problem is about to arise in his ‘journey’. He says ‘shuddering walls’. The word ‘shuddering’ relates to the walls of the woman’s womb contracting as she experiences labour. It also has negative connotations as it links to helplessness as shuddering is an involuntary action. It therefore stresses the discomfort of the woman giving birth. The rhythm of this stanza, up until this point is irregular and fast, which greatly contrasts with the rhythm of the previous stanzas. The pace of this section mimics the quick heartbeat faced as you wait for the birth of your child. The idea of discomfort and pain is shown in the next section of his literal journey as he journeys towards the ward. The doors are described as ‘slicing’ which can be regarded as an element of pain and brings an unpleasant image to the readers mind. At this moment in the poem, Stallworthy begins to reveal that his metaphorical journey is going to take a turn for the worse.
Directly following the negative words, the narrator is given a piece of news which ‘kills’ him. He is told his son had downs’ syndrome and from this point his metaphorical journey changes from great joy to utter devastation. From this point onwards, the narrator must face this difficulty and get on with life. Although he must, first, try to get over it in his head. This is the next stage of his metaphorical journey. “This was my first death” This suggests to the reader that this is the first time the man has ever been this upset, he feels as if he has just been told that his son has died. He had dreams and hopes for his sons future and these have all been taken away as quickly as possible. This could also suggest that he, himself has died in that he will never be the same person again.
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The way in which the speaker describes the impact his son’s disability will have on their relationship is significant. ‘we will tunnel each other out’. This suggests that the narrator feels he will be able to support his disabled child and equally he feels that he will gain a lot from the experience. Through his metaphorical and literal journey, he experienced great joy and significant pain but overall he realises that he must love his son for who he is and not the disability which he faces. It is extremely clear that Stallworthy learnt a great deal from his journey and can appreciate life further as he has experienced trauma like he had never been through before. He may be a stronger person as a result of his journey; it has awakened him into the real world.
In conclusion, we are made aware of the main message of the poem, that thorough loss, we may gain. Through the poet’s journey, he gained confidence and was reborn into the real world, where pain is a regular occurrence. His literal journey was his drive to the hospital and then walking briskly to the ward, where his child awaited him. His metaphorical journey took 3 main stages; great joy as he journeyed to the hospital, absolute destruction and desolation when he learnt of his son’s disability and finally realisation that love and a great deal of understanding can be enough to deal with a crisis. Stallworthy made the reader more aware of the deeper significance of his journeys though imagery, word choice and other effective poetic techniques
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